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Pacific Islands Forum expels Fiji for elections refusal

Fiji has been suspended from the 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum after its military coup leader Voreqe Frank Bainimarama (pictured) refused to meet the forum's May 1 deadline to set a date for democratic elections.

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AFP - Fiji was suspended from the 16-nation Pacific Islands Forum on Saturday and told there was no place for a regime which displays "such a total disregard for basic human rights".

The chairman of the regional bloc, Toke Talagi, said Fiji military coup leader Voreqe Frank Bainimarama had refused to meet the forum's May 1 deadline to set a date for democratic elections this year.

"It is with considerable sorrow and disappointment that I confirm the suspension of the current military regime in the Republic of the Fiji Islands," said Talagi.

"This difficult decision, agreed unanimously between all forum leaders at our retreat in Port Moresby on January 27, 2009, responds to Commodore Bainimarama's failure to address constructively by May 1, 2009 the expectations of Forum Leaders to return Fiji to democratic governance in an acceptable time-frame."

Bainimarama -- who overthrew the elected government in a 2006 coup -- has since tightened his grip on power and last month declared there will not be elections until 2014.

He also tested the resolve of the forum saying on Friday he did not believe it would carry out the suspension threat.

But Talagi said the suspension was particularly timely "given the recent disturbing deterioration of the political, legal and human rights situation in Fiji" since last month when a court ruled Bainimarama's reign was illegal.

The military regime's response was to sack the judiciary, scrap the constitution, censor the news media and guarantee itself five more years in power.

"A regime which displays such a total disregard for basic human rights, democracy and freedom has no place in the Pacific Islands Forum," Talagi said in a statement, adding the suspension took immediate effect.

Fiji also faces being ostracised by the Commonwealth, which has said it would suspend Fiji by September if no progress is made towards restoring democracy.
 

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